NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 11: Marc Staal #18 Michael Sauer #38 Ruslan Fedotenko #19 and Brandon Prust #8 of the New York rangers celebrate Fedotenko's first period goal against the Buffalo Sabres of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 11 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Following up their run to the Eastern Conference Finals with some of the biggest moves this offseason, are the Rangers ready to break through, or have they set the bar impossibly high?
For much of the 2011-12 season, it seemed like everything had fallen into place on Broadway. The high profile addition of Brad Richards, winning the 2012 Winter Classic against the division rival Flyers, and securing a No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs.
Despite some surprising early struggles against the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals, everything was pointing toward the Rangers making their way to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994 when reality intervened in the form of their old friends from New Jersey.
Falling in six games, GM Glen Sather made the decision to renew his pursuit of Columbus Blue Jackets power forward Rick Nash, eventually landing him in a deal that sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and prospect Tim Erixon to the midwest.
There's no question that New York got the most talented player in the deal by adding a perennial all star, but Nash is going to be in an interesting position to start the season. With most expecting him to make a good team great, he'll first need to start the season by trying to replace the injured Marian Gaborik's offensive output, to say nothing of the scoring that left town to acquire him. He's likely to be aided by a full season from hot prospect Chris Kreider, but Gaborik's skates will be a challenge to fill.
On the defensive side of the puck, the club can be expected to bring the same tight checking, disciplined approach that brought them so much success, but it's worth pointing out that some of the team's biggest losses in trades and free agency came from the bottom six, who worked so hard to grind down opponents' top lines, and the loss of both Dubinsky and Brandon Prust may prove to be a major impact to the club's penalty kill.
Meanwhile, the club is still attempting to come to terms with restricted free agent Michael Del Zotto after a breakthrough season, and playoff hero Ryan McDonagh is likely to be asking for a substantial raise when he becomes an RFA next summer.
In net, the club can continue to depend on Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, but last season was an exceptionally strong one even for his history of excellence. Asking him to repeat or better a .930 save percentage and 1.97 GAA is a tall order, to say nothing of 39 wins in 62 starts. (39-18-13)
New Names On The Marquee
In addition to the high profile addition of Nash, the Rangers did attempt to address their bottom six needs by acquiring veterans Aaron Asham, Jeff Halpern and Taylor Pyatt to provide solid checking minutes and grit. Pyatt, in particular, may also bring the ability to pop in a few timely goals here and there to help with some of the club's scoring concerns. Just as important will be the "rookie" season for Chris Kreider, who made such an impressive debut in the playoffs after finishing his NCAA career with Boston College. After setting a new record for the most postseason goals without participating in a regular season game, he's set the bar high for what fans will expect from him in the coming season.
That theme of expectations is going to be a heavy one for this entire roster. After having grabbed so many headlines en route to the Eastern Conference Finals, preparing to debut a massively remodeled Madison Square Garden, and making one of the biggest deals of the offseason, the Ranger fanbase will be content with nothing less than excellence. If this club cannot deliver, we could see the Blueshirt fans turn on their stars in all too short of a time.